Broomsticks, Black Cats, and Broken Ladders?

Yesterday: Links to Publications     Tomorrow: The Case Against College

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude


Books: 1) The Bubble Boys: How Mistaken Educational Ideals and Practices are Causing a Warped Social Fabric

2) The Role of the Gods in the Iliad

3) Folksiness in History and Baseball!

4) Logic Requires Asking Questions

5) Rules for Writing

I apologize for the brief hiatus–I am starting to get busy with a number of things, especially (as I mentioned yesterday) my work on amateurism in collegiate athletics, and I have only so much time on my hands.  I will, however, make every effort to keep posting here regularly, as I know my readers enjoy what I write and will miss me if I don’t!  🙂  I am also going to branch out and start to consider modern books, as they supplement and enhance any Great Books education.

The last substantive post I wrote covered Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government.  Today I will be speaking less about any specific book and more about a general theme, witch hunts, that seems to recur in daily life and thus also in literature.  Plays about witch hunts are legion–Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw), An Enemy of the People (Henryk Ibsen), and The Crucible (Arthur Miller) come immediately to mind–and most of them are written about historical events.  The Crucible has the added effect of having been a commentary on Miller’s own times, what with McCarthyism and the blacklisting that robbed many professionals of hard-earned careers.

I myself have been the victim of a witch hunt–eight months long when I was at the University of California, Berkeley.  My best friend at the time was pushed out of a window while he and a bunch of acquaintances were on drugs.  I was not present and did not know about it until after it had happened.  A friend of mine who lived several floors above this guy in the same building instant messaged me and told me someone had been pushed out of a window on his floor, and I instantly suspected who it was.  As it turned out, they said he had jumped, which did not seem to fit with the facts: he was butt-naked, had “fallen” out of his next-door neighbor’s window, and they claimed he had locked them out and told them he was going to sleep.  He was also homosexual.  You put the clues together.

For eight months the university filed internal charges against me–nothing through the District Attorney or any legal institution, as there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on my part–and after several hearings I was told I had “admitted” to sexually harassing a girl who was acquainted with the perpetrators.  You can guess yourselves whether I actually admitted to any such thing.  Then they sent me to their own school psychologist, hoping she would file a report with them indicating that I was off my rocker.  She found no such thing, and I asked her not to share the notes of our sessions with them.  She didn’t.  So they sent me to another one, but of my own choosing.  Same result.  And another one. Same result.  They kicked me out of buildings that I was supposed to be allowed into, called me up for hearings during summer break where they asked “what happened that night?” (the night my friend “jumped” out of his next-door neighbor’s window) and never asked about any violations of their conduct policy, and generally made themselves such a nuisance to me that I was forced the vacate my classes in the fall and agree to a lengthy suspension.  The last charge they brought against me was that I was sexually harassing a Hispanic lady.  What did I say to her?  That I “found her a bit creepy” and that rather than following me around the classroom and staring at me she ought to have talked to me.

What is particularly galling is that the Director of Student Conduct had a fairly lengthy and documented history of similarly egregious behavior:



I have never fully recovered–and wish to high hell I had read Saint Joan in high school when it was assigned to me, because it might have helped me.  That is one reason I am offering this program, and anyone who casts it off as useless does so foolishly and at their own peril.  You all may think that it cannot happen to you or your own kid.  In fact it can happen to anyone.

But this is only my story, and I think there is a need to address the broader element of witch hunts which seems to be increasingly pervading our society.  We live in an age where it seems that fewer and fewer people are finding fulfillment in their lives.  Television isn’t doing it for them.  Nor is the internet.  And they are having a lot of trouble coming to terms with the fact that since they left childhood they have not found the kind of satisfaction they were looking for.  Midlife crises are a recurrent problem–my own father had one.  Men and women flock to sex hoping that it will create happiness.  Instead it gives them a few minutes of pleasure and then afterwards creates drama and potentially serious long-term problems for them.

And that’s where the witch hunt begins.  It begins with people whose dissatisfaction with their own estate–of their own choosing, mind you–leads them to want to damage others who seem happy or fulfilled.  The instant they see someone whose fortune makes them jealous, they do not seek any longer to emulate this man but instead to knock him to the lowest point they can.  This is what happened to the title character in Saint Joan, and it is what in some sense happened to John Procter in The Crucible.

I do not think Alex Rodriguez is being subjected to a witch hunt.  I do, however, think that this has happened to Johnny Manziel.  It happened to Kobe Bryant a decade ago.  In between it has happened to the Duke lacrosse team, to George W. Bush, to John Edwards, to George Zimmerman, and to dozens of other athletes and political figures whose names and faces were once everywhere on the map.

And it is happening mostly as a result of the mentality of one distinct set of people: liberals (of all races) who claim that white men are first of all by nature evil and secondly incapable of non-racist conduct.  Many of these people are white themselves, which leads them to consider themselves equally guilty–and hence unsatisfied with the outcomes of their lives.  Their arguments are seductive: they pin themselves as moral, as angels, and everyone else as demons, and they use historical events to justify what is clearly an overreaching and unrealistic proposition.  Certainly an inordinately large percentage of victims of witch hunts have been white males–not all, but many–and their alleged “victims” are not white.  That in fact was the case with my witch hunt.  Nevermind the fact that my friend was himself Hispanic.

I was listening to a radio interview with the great Charles Barkley last night, who agreed with the Zimmerman verdict on the grounds that the evidence left serious doubt.  Barkley said something extremely compelling.  When asked whether he ever encountered racism in the locker room in any of his stops in the NBA, he said “well yeah, but only once.  And it wasn’t a white player, it was a black player who hated white people.  He had been a high draft pick and they kept him around hoping he’d fulfill his promise but he wasn’t very good.”

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, I don’t know what will.

In any event, there is only one response to this culture of witch hunts and conformity: read the classics.  Admire the many and significant achievements of Western Civilization, and respect the individual as an autonomous entity capable of making its own decisions with the proper training.  At the same time this protects you from yourself falling victim to the madness of crowds.  And please, do your best to make your own life and your kids’ lives fulfilling.

I’ll look at one way to do that–or to avoid it becoming unfulfilling–tomorrow.


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